Last year, Bill O’Reilly
made headlines when he called upon Americans to boycott France due to the
efforts of the French government to undermine international support to rid
the world of Saddam Hussein at the United Nations. The French government
has always had a cozy relationship with Saddam, but in light of the UN Oil
for Food Scandal -- where it appears that French politicians and businessmen
were bribed by Saddam -- the boycott appears to be richly deserved.
For my own part, I supported O’Reilly’s call for a boycott of France.
Mind you, all that really meant for me was not buying Evian or Volvic bottled
water. But it was the principle of the matter.
Now O’Reilly is at it again this time, taking aim at Canada.
O’Reilly has been teed off with the Canadian government for some time for
a number of reasons. He has been critical of their liberal immigration
and refugee policies, their unwillingness to address the growing number of
terror cells from al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, that have taken root on
Canadian soil, as well as their refusal to send troops to Iraq.
However, when two American soldiers deserted from the Army to seek asylum
in Canada, O’Reilly had enough. He was piqued at how the Canadian media
(specifically the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Globe and Mail)
have lionized the deserters. He has warned Canadians that he will call for
a boycott if the Canadian government grants their request for asylum.
The Government of Canada does not take terrorism as seriously as it should,
and granting asylum to army deserters who ought to be before a military court
sends a terrible message. Yet at the same time I believe Americans
should ignore O’Reilly, should he decide to add Canada to his blacklist.
Before I go any further I should disclose that I was born and raised in Canada.
In fact, I lived in Canada for more than a quarter century before moving
to the United States a little over four years ago. I consider the United
States to be my home but most of the people I know (especially family) and
most of what I have learned is north of the border. So yes, I have
a dog in this fight.
I believe Americans should ignore any call boycott to Canada for two reasons.
First of all, any boycott would do as much harm to the United States as it
would to Canada. After all, the largest trading partner of the United
States is not Great Britain or Japan but Canada. There
would not have been a North American Free Trade Agreement or a Free Trade
Agreement of the Americas if not for the Canada-United States Free Trade
Agreement that came into effect in 1989. Billions of dollars worth
of goods and services are exchanged through the Canada-United States border.
Millions of jobs in both countries are dependent on our unique trade relationship.
Every day 37,000 trucks cross the Canada-United States border in each direction.
How many jobs in the transportation industry would be lost if Americans started
boycotting Canadian goods and services? What about lost opportunities
in other industries?
If you think Canada does not matter to the United States, did you know that
according to the United States Department of Commerce, in 2003 the United
States exported over $169 billion of goods and services to Canada?
With that level of business in Canada one would think that the United States
government would be content. But if one looks at the website of the
International Trade Administration (a section of the Commerce Department),
between now and June there are three trade missions scheduled to take place
in Canada – two in Toronto and one in Vancouver. In fact,
next week there will be a Plastics Trade Mission where U.S. companies will
have the “ideal opportunity to become familiar with business opportunities
in Canada, our number one export market in the world.”
The plastics industry in Canada is a $22.5 billion a year (USD) business.
Next month’s Explore B.C. trade show gives American companies as much access
to Asian markets as it does to Canadian markets, as many Asian firms have
offices in Vancouver. As for Canadian exports to the United States,
according to Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade,
the United States received $245.8 billion (Cdn) worth of exports from Canada.
Second, while O’Reilly posts letters from some Canadians who claim they are
afraid of their government, Canada is a healthy and vibrant democracy.
While the Government of Canada has certainly demonstrated anti-American inclinations,
these actions are not supported by the entire Canadian populace. Indeed,
a majority of Canadians polled expect Canada to assist the United States
in times of war, including the current war in Iraq. Could this be why Canadian
Prime Minister Paul Martin is in the United States visiting with President
Bush? Undoubtedly, Martin is trying to distance himself from his predecessor
Jean Chretien, who did everything he could to be a thorn in the side of the
Keep in mind, that there will very likely be a federal election in Canada
in a matter of months. While Martin has credibility with the Canadian
electorate and Wall Street alike for eliminating Canada’s deficit while he
was Finance Minister in the 1990’s, the Liberal Party is not guaranteed
re-election under his stewardship. The Liberal Party has
been embroiled in a scandal involving party members receiving large government
contracts under the auspices of promoting “national unity,” only to line
their own pockets. Martin will face a strong challenge from the
newly united Conservative Party under the leadership of Stephen Harper, who
wants a closer relationship with the U.S. Also keep in mind,
the Liberals may also lose votes to the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP)
amongst those who believe the Liberals aren’t left-wing (read anti-American)
enough under Martin. Paradoxically, a vote for the NDP might turn out
to be a vote for the Conservatives, and we could see a new government not
only friendlier to Washington but to the sentiments of Canada’s silent majority.
The point is that Canadians are more than capable of changing their governments.
Canada may be red but it is no Cuba. Thus a boycott is unnecessary and would
only serve to anger Canadians who might otherwise agree with O’Reilly, but
do not want to be painted with the same brush.
can be very effective when employed strategically and for very specific purposes.
Indeed, O’Reilly was careful to exempt from the boycott French companies
that operated inside the United States and employed Americans.
However, boycotts should not be utilized as a one size fits all solution
to disputes with our allies. For all of the Canadian government’s
missteps it should be acknowledged that they have sent money and a small
number of troops to Afghanistan. Indeed, four Canadian soldiers
were killed by two American air force pilots in a friendly fire incident.
It should also be remembered that it was Canadians who opened their doors
to Americans and to the world when hundreds of airlines were diverted to
Canada on 9/11. Gander, Newfoundland saw its population double in a single
The United States’ relationship to Canada is too important to resort to a
boycott no matter how well intentioned. For Americans to boycott Canada
would be to cut off our noses to spite our faces.
Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.
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